I have only heard insane stories about Albania since I arrived yesterday. They are:
1. The country was completely isolated for fifty years because their communist dictator, Enver Hoja, was very, very paranoid. He thought that other western nations were out to destroy Albania and ordered the construction of thousands and thousands of tiny concrete bunkers all over the country. The count: one bunker for every three people. They look like little grey mushrooms.
2. Albanians cannot read maps. Maps were illegal in communist Albania, and would get you sent to the gulag. Older Albanians have difficulty with them. (Having asked several older albanians for directions using maps today, I can confirm this as true.)
3. Busking was also illegal, and would get you sent to the gulag.
4. There were only 600 cars in communist Albania, to be used only by Party officials. Now everyone has a car, and it is usually a Mercedes.
5. There were 8 city blocks in Tirana known as “The Bloc,” to be used and occupied only by party officials. Now, they are the center of nightlife for the city.
6. Enver Hoja told all the people of Albania that Albania was the richest country in the world.
7. Enver Hoja also told the people of Albania to build him a pyramid so that when he died, he could be embalmed and entombed within it in the manner of an Egyptian Pharaoh. They did so. Also, just in the manner of a real Egyptian pyramid, it was stripped and robbed within a few years of Enver Hoja’s death.
8. There may or may not be a secret escape tunnel leading from Enver Hoja’s basement into the mountains.
9. After Enver Hoja’s death, the people of Albania learned that the communist-portioned meals they had been eating were not, in fact, the fare of the richest countries in the world, and actually, their country was one of the poorest, which made them very upset and they started to smash everything in the country.
10. After Enver Hoja’s death, a lot of people lost their life savings to a Ponzi scheme set up by a used car salesmen, which made them very upset, and violent, and they took to the streets to rob each other and everyone went out with guns for protection.
11. Before the communists, Albania was governed by a tribal law code called “Kanun” which was all about blood fueds and how many daughters you could steal if your neighbor killed your cattle, and people used to hide in towers their whole life because it was safer, and then the communists came and partitioned the land into equal strips so there was no reason to kill each other over land disputes any more. Let it never be said that communism doesn’t work.
12. Also in pre-communist times, too many men kept dying from blood fueds, so women were allowed to socially switch and become men, and drink with the men, and play dominos with the men, and do business, and wear pants, and get married. They are known as the Albanian sworn mountain virgins.
13. Strangely, after all the crazy war and violence and insanity, modern Albania turned out to be a pretty nice place. People are very nice and very warm and hospitable. (Hospitality is part of Kanun.) Mom, Dad, Kel: All the guns are hidden away in closets now. The nice English people whom I learned all this information from have been coming here on and off for nine years, and she said she feels safer here than back in her hometown. The whole country feels like one big family, children of an estranged deposed communist pharaoh dictator entombed beneath a giant communist pyramid downtown.
14. Beer is seventy cents.
15. Raki, the poisonous moonshine of the balkans, is also seventy cents.
What is Albania? A high, effortless density of weird.
POSTSCRIPT: I didn’t even really tell you what I did today. If you want to know how I failed to find the biggest cave in europe, you can read about it in my upcoming and very exciting adventure travel guide. 🙂